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Recipe inspiration, tips, and kitchen hacks from the Chowhound editors.

Safran: Assured Vietnamese Newcomer in Chelsea

Safran brings something unusual and welcome to Chelsea: decent Asian food. This stylish two-month-old restaurant serves slightly dressed-up Vietnamese dishes with a few Western accents and presentations–and avoids the common pitfall of over-sweetening for American palates. The food is billed as “French Vietnamese,” but the French influence appears to surface only in a handful of dishes, like duck confit in red wine-citrus sauce and duck consomme with foie gras dumplings.

“I was very pleasantly surprised, as I’m not usually a big fan of anything that seems too Asian-fusiony,” says lchang, who reports standout green papaya salad with grilled beef and delicious, authentic-tasting crispy egg noodles, topped with beef, seafood, and vegetables. Dandel recommends sate (grilled shrimp, chicken, and vegetable skewers), cha dum (gingery steamed beef-vermicelli balls), and sauteed chive flowers with lily bulb and oyster mushroom. Other winners: bo loc lac (marinated beef cubes), bamboo soup (with gingko, snow fungus, and mushrooms), and sumptuous, elegantly presented banana cake with coconut sauce, strawberries, and green tea ice cream.

Lunch boxes are a good deal. For $9, Chelsea Pearl scored two tender, smoky lemongrass-honey-marinated pork chops plus rice, salad, spring or summer roll, and pan-fried noodles with peanuts, onions, and egg. Pearl’s verdict: “Chelsea needs this place.”

Safran [Chelsea]
formerly Raymond’s Cafe
88 7th Ave., between W. 15th and 16th Sts., Manhattan

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Restaurant Safran in Chelsea

Menu Note: Beef Stew Pho

Valleyites love the classic Vietnamese beef noodle soup at Pho 999, but if you haven’t tried the beef stew pho, says Hypnotic23, you’re in for a treat–flavorful chunks of beef with carrots, a great broth and of course those noodles. It’s like a cross between pho and Mom’s pot roast. Dip the beef in some of that side sauce and you’re in heaven. Don’t forget the spring rolls to start.

Pho 999 [East San Fernando Valley]
6411 Sepulveda Blvd. # 1K1L, Victory, Van Nuys

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Beef Stew Pho at Pho 999 Review

Taco Flights of Fancy

Iguanas Ranas makes a great taco, especially when the owner lets his imagination do the cooking, says RoachCoach. Like the jalapeno taco: a large pepper (spicy-making seeds removed) stuffed with carne asada and raisins, then grilled and wrapped in excellent yellow corn tortillas he brings from Mexico. Salsas are also original blends of fruit and chile, like strawberry-habanero or mango-serrano.

Taco hunter Bandini stumbled across a taco table in a Palms market parking lot, a rare sight on the Westside. There’s no menu, just stacks of grilled meat. Pick a kind and the taco lady will scoop the meat into a tortilla and top it with onions, cilantro and a super-tasty red tomatillo salsa. Grilled jalapenos and onions–fab with carne asada–available on request.

The table is definitely operational on weekends, but we’re not sure about weekdays. Tacos are $1 each.

Iguanas Ranas [Inland of LA]
15485 E. Valley Blvd., City of Industry

Taco table [Culver City-ish]
in parking lot of Palms Super Market
3568 Motor Ave., at Palms, Los Angeles

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westside weekend taco alert
Real Mexican Tortilla used for tacos

Baked Apples

Baked apples are delicious for dessert or breakfast. p.j. notes that they’re a great way to use up slightly bruised or tired apples that are no longer appealing for just plain eating. To prep apples for baking, carve out the core, from the stem end down, leaving a small bit intact at the bottom. The hollowed-out cores get stuffed with sweet goodies before the apples are baked. Some cooks like to peel their apples, some like to leave the peels on, and some peel partially for a handsome presentation.

Here are some chowhounds’ favorite baked apple preps:

Mix oatmeal cookie mix, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, butter, and brown sugar. Stuff mixture into peeled and cored apples and spread some on top as well. Bake at 350F for 30-45 minutes (qtxniki).

Soak some raisins in dark rum overnight. Mix the raisins with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts, and stuff into cored apples. Place in a buttered baking pan with a little water in the bottom and bake until they’re as soft as you like. Pour a little fresh cream over each apple to serve (JenMarie66).

Peel and core apples, then fill the cores with brown sugar, maple syrup, butter, and Penzey’s Baking Spice (a mix of cinnamon, anise, mace, and cardamom). Bake at 375F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F. They are done when you can insert a paring knife with very little resistance. You can thicken the pan juices with cornstarch and serve as a sauce; add more maple syrup or brown sugar to sweeten if you like (Kelli2006).

p.j. favors an ultra-quick version done in the microwave: Drop a few raisins into each hole in a cored apple. Fill holes with orange juice. Place apples in a deep microwave-safe baking container with a lid and pour a few extra Tbsp. of orange juice in the dish with the apples. Microwave for 3-5 minutes on high, or longer as necessary to cook apples to the degree of softness you like. Put each apple in a small bowl, pour juice remaining in baking pan over the tops, and serve.

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favorite baked apple recipe

Don’t Trim That Turkey’s Tail

The triangular flap of skin on the butt end of a turkey, which is the stub of the tail, should absolutely, definitely be left intact before the bird goes in the oven to roast, concur hounds. This bit roasts up crisp and fatty, and is highly prized by many. “It’s the best part, traditionally reserved for Cook (or, if Cook permits, Carver). After roasting, you snap it off and eat the whole thing, including the tender bones, which are yummy,” explains Karl S.

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Dumb turkey question

Super Secret Maltier Asian Ovaltine

Buying Ovaltine won’t get you a secret decoder ring anymore, but it’s an old favorite for many, who still drink it and prepare it for their kids. It has a malty flavor and some added vitamins, and no fat or cholesterol. Chocolatetartguy describes it as a wholesome-tasting hot chocolate. The granules dissolve nicely when stirred into hot or cold milk. Try adding a few spoonfuls to a cup of hot coffee. (Some folks drink it as a coffee substitute.)

Will Owen says that Asian markets have Ovaltine that’s less sweet and more malty than the formula sold in most supermarkets. Here’s his favorite cold breakfast: “Break up a banana into a tall glass, then pour in milk to within an inch of the top. Dump this into a blender along with two or three heaping tablespoons of Ovaltine and blend it to a froth.”


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Ovaltine and older folks?

Sous Vide

The term “sous vide” is French for “in a vacuum”. This is a technique that involves cooking foods under pressure in vacuum sealed plastic packages (a.k.a. cryovac packages) at low temperatures, for a very long time. Sous vide cooking concentrates flavor, and changes texture. For now, it’s not available to home cooks. Even professional kitchens have had trouble because it requires expensive special equipment and guidelines to assure that the long, slow cooking will produce a safe product.

Here’s an article that explains further, from the NY Times.

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cryovac or sous vide

Strategic Guest Ejection

Strategic Guest Ejection

How should we signal that it's time for guests to depart-- short of changing into our pajamas? READ MORE

New Blog, Bad Blood

Michael Ruhlman, writer of books and watcher of chefs, joined the ranks of food bloggers last week, becoming the latest pro journalist to launch his own blog. Ruhlman had some practice in blogland during his guest-columnist stint at seminal food blog megnut, where he wrote intelligently on gastropolitical issues (like the foie-gras ban) and provided great commentary on the world of celeb chefs. On his own blog, though, he veered into oddly negative territory on just his second day out of the gate, when he bashed fellow journo-cum-blogger Regina Schrambling of gastropoda:

About nastiness—I’m not a big fan of it, though some bloggers can be funny in their nastiness, such as Regina Schrambling at gastropoda—I imagine from reading her blog that it might be kind of scary to actually be Regina Schrambling (unlike say being John Malkovich), but I can’t help checking in on Wednesdays for the dirt and bile (I figure I can always wash afterward).

Yikes. Reading down a little farther, we learn that he dislikes her insideriness and her use of pseudonyms and anonymous references when talking about certain food-world folks, which he says “carries with it an element of the personal grudge vented in a public space.” But then he goes and vents a personal grudge himself:

Schrambling was once snide about something I’d written for the Times (her former employer which she attacks venomously and regularly) and she was also kind enough to get a correction into the LATimes, for whom she writes, when she got a fact about one of my books wrong (even though the error was so minor this wasn’t necessary), which was uncommonly nice of her.

Ruhlman is right to an extent, of course: Schrambling rips on Frank Bruni (whom she refers to as “Panchito,” the nickname Bush gave him) and The New York Times as often as possible, and she is nasty. Not hilarious-nasty and peppered with goofy photos, Bruni Digest style, either—clenched-jawed, dry-ice-spittin’ nasty. But of course that venom is why people read her: She has all the irreverence and anger of a food-world outsider but the access and experience of an insider, which makes for some good material.

Ruhlman must have known she would bite back the way she did a few days ago:

No wonder we’re bogged down in a lose-lose situation in Iraq. There are actually people out there, in the media no less, who do not know how Panchito got nicknamed Panchito. (Big honkin’ hint: Not by me.) Thanks to e-pals who alerted me with reviews ranging from ‘semi-coherent’ to ‘mean and pompous,’ I looked in on (or is it What is it with guys who read me and have to take to the fainting couch? It’s only guys, interestingly enough. Women must be more honest about how the food world works—not for nothing is it known as a coven. At least I don’t let my comment-monkeys fling the feces for me. And while I could never describe what it’s like being me, I can tell you what it’s not: boring.

Zi-ing. I just hope Ruhlman will make his blog a place to publish the kind of thinky writing he does best—and leave the trash-talking to Schrambling, the true master.

She Blinded Me with Liquor!

Wired is helping us bridge the gap between drinking insane, scientifically cutting-edge drinks at expensive urban bars, and drinking insane, scientifically cutting-edge drinks at home.

And all you need is some agar, some cola-flavored Pop Rocks, and a class-IV laser!

So, right. It’s kind of a long bridge. But the story is a diverting look at what it takes to dabble in drinks that will drop jaws, not only with their price or complexity, but also with the sheer ambition involved. It’s one thing to demand a whole vanilla bean—if you can’t handle that, go back to drinking Grain Belt and be done with it. But it’s another to insist upon hitting that vanilla bean with a super-concentrated beam of light until its mist coats the interior of a wineglass. This Wired article is to drinks what Real Genius was to popcorn.

Sure, it’s a bit over the top. But how can you hate anything with directions like this?

Warm gin and add gelatin. Pour into a shallow baking pan lined with plastic wrap, add tonic, and refrigerate for two hours. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Put cube onto lime chip, sprinkle on sugar-soda-acid mixture (the acid combines with the baking soda for a carbonated feeling on the tongue), and serve.